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Pondering retirement? Try it in phases

Jeff Caldwell 07/12/2013 @ 1:48pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Is farming a profession or a lifestyle? The majority of farmers are likely to say the latter.

That makes a topic and life transition like retirement something of a tough topic for a lot of farmers. It makes the prospect of stepping away from the daily work on the farm something of a quandary for many; does doing so mean you're altogether changing your entire lifestyle, or is there, in fact, "life after farming?"

The majority of farmers in the U.S. today are nearing what's considered typical retirement age; the average age of Successful Farming magazine readers, for example, is 56, according to Successful Farming research. Farmers over the age of 65, according to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, comprise the largest demographic growth area, and that segment's rate of growth is only sharpening.

"The fastest growing group of farm operators is those 65 years and over," according to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture. "In 2007, there were 54,147 operators under the age of 25 and 289,999 operators 75 years and over."

So, farmers -- like everyone on the planet -- are aging. That means the inevitable question of whether or not to hang up the work gloves and tractor keys is on a growing number of farmers' minds.

"Moving off the farm. It's my idea," says Agriculture.com Farm Business Talk veteran advisor sw363535. "I am getting close to that age (whatever that age is) and for some health reasons, I am diminishing my leadership role at the farm.

"What did you do to make it work for you? What happened to you that you did not foresee?"

Experts say the answer to those questions start with defining your readiness for the change. That's a decision that should encompass physical, financial and emotional readiness, according to a set of reports based on focus groups with farmers from the Rutgers University New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station entitled "Later Life Farming."

"Retirement plans aren't one-size-fits-all, and there is no 'right' time to retire, if ever. If working on a farm (or anywhere else) makes you happy, as well as more financially secure, there is absolutely no reason, other than perhaps poor health, to stop," according to the report that sought opinions on the topic from that state's farmers, many of whom said farming is "in their blood," making the retirement decision a difficult one.

The financial consideration's a major one when deciding when to retire from the farm. By that point in life, you've likely pulled together a sum of money from which you can draw living expenses. But, if you feel like you've yet to reach the point where that's sustainable, you also need to remain aware of the potential pitfalls of continuing to work on the farm. In other words, with age comes mounting challenges to doing the work that was once easy.

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